After being involved in a horrible car accident with his family, LAPD Detective Michael Britten (Isaacs) finds himself caught between two alternate realities. In one reality, his wife Hannah (Allen) survived the accident while their son Rex (Minnette) died in the crash; and in the other it was Hannah who died whilst Rex survived. Unsure which reality is real, Michael struggles with loss in both as cases and incidents from one bleed into the other…
A high-concept cocktail of Life On Mars, Sliding Doors and Law & Order, Awake undoubtedly boasts a stand-out genre premise with plenty of promise. Disappointingly though, given that the majority of instalments in the 13-episode run focus on procedural, self-contained investigations (the demands of network television, sigh), said premise isn’t explored to its full extent and said promise goes unrealised. Saddled with the need to appeal to casual viewers, writer-creator Kyle Killen and his team are forced to concentrate on unimportant cases-of-the-week, meaning that the central sci-fi concept often feels like little more than a gimmicky device.
Plus, given the duel nature of the setup (IE, most episodes flit between the two realities), we end up with not one, but two procedurals each time. This, instead of using the premise to place our protagonist in some interesting moral predicaments (like, say, having Britten pursue a relationship in the reality where his wife is dead), is definitely a waste. In general, you get the feeling that the creative team (which includes 24 and Homeland’s Howard Gordon) didn’t really know where to go or what to do after the opening episode, which can’t help but frustrate at times.
Perhaps most frustrating of all though, is how good the show is when it concentrates on the parallel reality concept and Britten’s state of mind. In addition to the pilot episode, the final three instalments (which ditch the unrelated cases-of-the-week) are largely gripping. Still, the real reason for watching is an outstanding performance from British actor Jason Isaacs (boasting a flawless American accent) who constantly elevates proceedings and displays Emmy-worthy work whenever given the chance (see his late breakdown). While the supporting cast is mostly bland and forgettable, his ongoing therapy sessions (in both realities Britten sees a different therapist) are consistently engaging, to the extent that both B.D.Wong and Cherry Jones, respectively, deserve a mention.
Despite boasting a stand-out genre premise, for the most part Awake merely uses it as a gimmick for a procedural cop show. This is especially frustrating as the show is gripping when it concentrates on its sci-fi element, while Jason Isaacs is outstanding in the lead.